Something old, something new

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Florence Craib spotted it right away — where her family first settled in River John.

Craib, nee Bigney, was anxious to take a look at the Plan of the Settlement of River John and Vicinity after it was unveiled in a preserved and mounted form at the Janice Murray Gill Memorial Library.

“My parents are all from here, and their parents,” said Craib, joking about bringing a stool during her next visit so she could get a closer look.

“It was around 1791 when the first Bigney came to Nova Scotia. I think (Jim) is buried up at the cemetery on Mountain Road. I looked for it, but couldn’t find it.”

In 1841, Deputy Surveyor John Gauld drew a plan on cotton with what’s believe to be ox gall ink. The map shows land grants and their owners from Seafoam to Tatamagouche.

Derek Andrews, chairperson of the River John Community Access Program (CAP) Society, said the organization was glad to finally have the preservation process complete.

“It’s taken a few years,” he said. “But it was worthwhile. Something like that really does need to be saved. It all comes down to the vision of the group of people who saved it.”

The plan was purchased in the 1980s at the estate sale of Cliff Carruthers. A group, consisting of George Carruthers, Janice Gill, John Henderson, Maurice Holmes, Walter Jewell, Jean Langille, Peter MacDonald, Joanne MacKinnon, Elsie Murray and Ella Sangster, pooled money together to purchase the piece for more than $1,500.

“And it’s my understanding there were a lot of antique dealers involved who wanted it,” said Andrews.

For years, the plan was on display at the local museum, which was only open during the summer. It was then given to the CAP society for safekeeping. With CAP society funding and help from the Pictou-Antigonish Regional Library, the plan was reframed to museum standards by Zwickers Art Gallery.

“They’ve done a fine job,” said Andrews. “They’ve removed all of the duct tape and masking tape that was used to mount it previously. They’ve repaired a tear and it’s been stabilized, framed on acid-free paper and mounted behind conservation grade glass.”

The Public Archives of Nova Scotia has also scanned the plan to keep on digital file, and prints have been made for purchase.

“I’m confident we’ve done the best possible job for this piece of local history.”

During the unveiling, the River John Historical Society was presented with a print of the plan.

“This is really very precious,” said Linda Thompson-Reid. “It will continue to amaze people and remind people where we come from.”

For those who wish to see the plan, visit the Janice Murray Gill Memorial Library in River John, or visit

From left, Florence Craib, Mary Tothill and Donald Mattatall were anxious to take a look at the Plan of the Settlement of River John and Vicinity at the library in River John. They were all able to find land were family settled hundreds of years ago. (Raissa Tetanish photo)

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